The Plight of the Post-Doc


"Use more hyphens" and other career panel advice

On Friday my institution hosted a "career panel" for post-docs.  Though it was mostly meant to be a chance for us to hear from people who'd decided not to stay in academia after getting their PhDs, I decided to go, figuring it would be mildly interesting at the very least, and monumentally life-changing at the very most.

The panel consisted of three biotech/pharma people, one publishing person, and one academia person (administration, not faculty).  They were asked to describe their journeys off the tenure-track track, discuss the current state of hiring at their company/institution, and describe desirable qualities in new hires.  In a surprising twist, all except the publishing person noted that having several first-author publications in top-tier journals was supremely important.  

And just as I was about to be all, tell me something I don't know, I did learn something I didn't know!  The publishing lady, after talking about how she entered publishing when she realized she hated bench work and how people who succeed in publishing have a keen eye for dangling prepositions and whatnot, said this:  "Something I've noticed is that people in this country often don't hyphenate when they should.  So...use more hyphens!"  As a long-standing proponent of the hyphen, I felt that this was advice I could really get behind.

Two out of the three biotech/pharma people were pretty depressing.  Neither one seemed to be all that enthusiastic about industry, and they each noted that hiring where they were had all but ground to a halt.  One did admit, though, that when her company does accept applications the initial CV screening is done by computer, meaning that if your CV doesn't contain exact word matches from the job ad, you're not getting through.  Crikey! 

The third industry person, however, was different.  Unlike the other two, he genuinely seemed to love his job and believe in his company.  He was cool, and spoke with the casual wisdom of someone who probably takes his kids fishing on the weekends, and also knows a lot about wine.  He qualified his earlier statement re: potential hires' publication records and said that while fancy papers were great, they were also looking for creative people, people who write well, people who have skills they didn't know they had.  His company has on staff a group of what they call "deep divers"--people whose job it is to immerse themselves in literature, attend meetings, and report back with all the cool stuff they learned and help everyone think about how to apply it to the company's work.  Sounds kind of fun, no?  

I looked at this guy's company's website, and they've won several "Best Places to Work" and "Most Innovative Companies" awards.  And, according to him, they're currently looking to fill 50 new spots for Ph.D-holders!  I'm not sure if I should just blab this company's name out loud, but if you're seriously considering an industry job, shoot me an email and I'll point you in the right direction.  

While it's nice to know that I was not completely turned off by the prospect, I'm not ready to start applying for "alternative careers" just yet.  Plus, I had a pretty great week in the academic world: got some new exciting data, started planning the class I'm going to help teach, met a faculty member who wants to collaborate, and convinced my boss to send me to two conferences this summer.  So for now, then, I'll be staying on the tenure-track track.


Candid Engineer said...

I love hyphens. Wanna email me re: that company? Wondering if they have any branches here.

Ewan said...

It would be useful - for my wife more than for me - to know, also; thanks, Becca.

[And in other news, we're hoping to have a neuroscience hire here probably next year; Albany is a surprisingly fun place to live, affordable, and the facilities/folk are great :)]

Becca said...

Thanks for the tip, Ewan! But I'm confused by your Albany comment--I thought you said you were at Yale?

Ewan said...

I was at Yale 2000-2008; then, as a PhD in a med school and hence with the tenure chances of a well-grilled icicle, I left. Still adjunct faculty there, but my primary affiliation (and my lab) are now at U.Albany. I have, oh, about 20,000% of the space I had at Yale...

Ewan said...

(2000-03 postdoc; 2004-06 faculty; 2007-08 nominally fully tenure track (after getting an R01) but in reality still no chance.)

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